Psychology of Art (397)


Fall 2018

This is a “specialized” course if taken for the Psychology Major.

William M. Mace
Office: Life Sciences 209A
Office Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 11:30 am-1:00 pm

and especially by Appointment

Contact —  E-Mail:
Personal Website

Required Reading

Books — E. H. Gombrich,  Art and Illusion
Lawrence Weschler, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

Reading for this course is extremely important. The core reading E. H. Gombrich’s book, Art and Illusion, is interesting and provocative. It should make you think about a great deal that you have not thought about before. For the reading to work its magic, you have to cooperate by giving it substantial hunks of time. When you get a “reading” assignment, the goal is for you to have learned the material in the reading, not just to have passed your eyes over each page once or twice. To emphasize this,for the first several assignments, I did not say simply “read” but “read, learn and digest.” You ought to approach any reading assignment this way, but sometimes people do not, so I’ll say it more explicitly and more often.

There are 29 pages in the introductory chapter of Gombrich. This Introduction, called “Psychology and the Riddle of Style,” is divided into six sections with Roman Numeral headings. There are 61 paragraphs. Some of the paragraphs are short transitions to the others. Some are long and dense with information. For carefully presented and argued material like this, it is not unreasonable to guess that an average of 5 minutes per paragraph is minimal to get what you need to get. If we round the number of paragraphs to 60, then we’re talking 300 minutes already for the chapter. How long is that? How many minutes in an hour? Good. So how many hours? That’s not counting the pictures. The topics at hand concern what can be seen in pictures, so the pictures in the book are there to make a point. You need to look carefully at the pictures, see what you see, and understand what the point is meant to be. Do they succeed in making the point for you? There are only 4 pictures in this Introduction. What are they? Why are they there? Integrating those into your understanding takes some more time. Putting it all together, I’d say that 6 hours is a reasonable beginning for the amount of time to allocate to this introductory chapter.


Sometimes students approach a course as a source of answers, thinking that the goal of a course is to teach students what experts know about a topic. The surprise for students is that what they often find is that much of a course is about what experts ASK about a topic. Much of any discipline involves learning how people package their questions in order to make progress. The questions you have when you are not an expert don’t necessarily lead to answers that look like they address the question you had.

Consider the Introduction. The title is “Psychology and the Riddle of Style.” A riddle is a kind of question, so we’re already orienting to questions. Because that’s the main topic, you ought to start reading, thinking to yourself “What is the riddle of style?” or even, “Can there be more than one riddle of style?” And, “what does Gombrich think the Riddle of Style is?” So you don’t just plunge in, but you plunge in knowing some of what you have to look for. In past classes, I have asked students, AFTER several class sessions, and AFTER doing the reading, what the Riddle of Style was to Gombrich. The reply of some was a list of styles. But I didn’t ask what some styles were or even what was meant by style. I asked, with Gombrich, what the “Riddle of Style” was. You cannot appreciate the riddle of style without good examples in mind, but those examples are not themselves what the question asks.

The first sentence says “The illustration in front of the reader should explain much more quickly than I could in words what is here meant by the “riddle of style.” See — Gombrich directly addressed the main point right from the beginning — but he also asked you to look at the first Figure. So you have to look at the Figure. Do you get the joke? Is it funny to you? If so, why? Gombrich’s second sentence says how important the cartoon is as an illustration of what he’ll get to, then he asks a question. Gombrich asks SIX questions in the first paragraph, and SEVEN in section I. You’ve got to stop and think about each question in order. (1)”Why is it that different ages and different nations have represented the visible world in such different ways?” Does that sink in as a real question? Can you think of some possible answers? At least to illustrate what the question is about?

What I’m try to do here is to alert you to the level of detail to be grasped and the tempo required to grasp it. If you do that, then you’ll participate well in class and write your papers at the correct level.


Course Work

Grades will be based on written work (90%)  and class participation (10%).

Class participation will be based on attendance, your willingness to talk in class, and performance on occasional exercises that I’ll call “homework.”


Your main written work for the semester will be a series of 4 modest papers and a more comprehensive final paper.

The assignments and dates due are these:


Paper I Sept. 18 15%
Paper II Oct. 11 15%
Paper III Nov. 13 15%
Paper IV Dec. 4 15%
Final Paper Dec. 17 30%

Schedule of Classes

Class 1
September 4
Examples of Styles

Preface to 2000 edition of Art and Illusion

 Introduction to the course
Class 2
September 6
 Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Introduction: Psychology and the Riddle of Style

Mirror demo

 Introduction to the scope of visual arts. Experiences in art. Role of the observer. Who can see what and when?
Alain cartoon
Overview of issues, Gombrich style. Peruse some more Egyptian Art. Just Google “Egyptian Art.”
 Class 3
September 11
Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 1

Wivenhoe Park series

In class: Amount of light in different conditions
Light variation due to reflectance

One of Alan Gilchrist’s Gelb demos

 Assignment 1 due a week from today, Sept. 18
 Class 4
September 13
Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 2
Wolgemut p. 81v
Check this out from Science, Sept. 5, 1997
Mystery Figure
 pay attention to the word “schema” and the idea of “schema and correction”
Function and Form
 Class 5 September 18
Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 3
Brueghel’s Dulle Griet
Part of Plato’s REPUBLIC (Book X) cited in Gombrich
J. S. G. Boggs
Platonic Solids
 Assignment 1 due by 10 tonight

“Making comes before matching”

 Class 6 September 20  Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 4

First Greek sculptures in Chapter 4

 The role of considering the function (purpose) of art in interpreting why it looks the way it does.  From Egypt to early Greece to classic Greece — an then jumping to medieval Europe.  Progress?
 Class 7 September 25 Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 5

Mondrian works. Look especially at the development of his “trees.”

See beginning of Morris art lesson video

 The Robert Morris video is linked to your Moodle page.  At the bottom of the left hand column, after all the dates, is a line labeled Kaltura Media Gallery.  Click on that.  One video should show up to click on.
The Beholder’s Share
 Class 8 September 27 Begin Gombrich — Chapter 6

Frank Gehry Sketching

Video (Robert Morris)

Class 9 October 2 Read: Gombrich — Chapter 7

Brian Rogers on Illusion
Neon Color Spreading
Experiences like Gombrich’s at the beginning of Chapter VII.

Julian Beever anamorphic trompe l’oeil sidewalk chalk art
Brusspup anamorphs
Sandor Vamos Art

Class 10 October 4 Famous Steinberg

Peter Rose video

 Assignment 2 due a week from today, Oct. 11
Class 11 October 11 Read: Gombrich — Chapter 8

Hogarth False Perspective 1754

Gibson on what lines can do

Gibson’s Psychology of Representation

Gibson’s 1978 revised theory of pictures

Perspective Rotation

Bonus — see New Yorker article about Berenson on Moodle site
Painting at issue in Hahn case

Class 12 October 16 Continue: Gombrich — Chapter 8
Gibson ReadingsGombrich’s review of a biography of Gibson by Edward S. Reed, who was a 1975 graduate of Trinity.
See more about Reed here
Alberti perspective
Perspective Tutorial
Evansville Perspective lessons
How the horizon works
Perspective “distortion.”
Big perspective website. Includes previous photo.
Class 13 October 18 How the horizon works
Perspective “distortion.
Big perspective website. Good for review
Vermeer — perspectivePerspective PowerPoint
Invention and Discovery
 Class 14 October 23 Read: Gombrich — Chapter 9

Gibson film 61 MB

A figure and change

Another figure and change

Gibson’s last theory of pictures

Class 15 October 25 Notes to remind you about last class

Gibson memo on affordances

Class 16
October 30
PowerPoint from class with 2 occlusion demonstrations over a painting — now on Moodle

Size of image on window

Artist with computer routine for caricature  — On Moodle site

Painting size experiment

Class 17 November 1  Read: Gombrich — Chapters 10 & 11

Artist’s advice on caricature drawing

Caricatures to study

Shaw face project based on orthodontic theory of Harvey Jenkins and biology of D’Arcy Thompson — see Moodle for paper led by Len Mark, and another led by John Pittenger.  The original Harvey Jenkins source is there as well.  This work is all about the Gibson style approach of pairing change and non-change;  invariants and variants.

Robert Irwin and James Turrell
Class 18
November 6
Completing story of the growth transformation of Shaw

Todd et al 1980

When is a painting finished?

Presentations about artists in the article above

PowerPoint list for above article

Read: Weschler Chapters 1 – 5

 Assignment 3 due a week from today, Nov. 13
 Class 19
November 8
Read: Weschler — Chapters 6 – 9

Irwin Video in class

Robert Irwin at the University of Virginia

Robert Irwin with Lawrence Weschler in Chicago

 Class 20
November 13
Read: Weschler — Chapters 10-13

Los Angeles County Art and Technology Project

San Diego “Light and Space”

Pacific Standard Time Website

Irwin’s theory of the History of Art

Nathan Knobler theme of art making in terms of decisions to be made.

Irwin, Turrell and Science (LA County)

Irwin lines — Beholder’s share?  Who is the audience?   How many can there be?   Look at Irwin’s history as an observer — Ibiza, Paris, lines, dots, etc.

 Class 21
November 15
Finish Weschler

Dia Beacon Robert Irwin information

Robert Irwin reception for Pace show July, 2012

Friend and colleague

Irwin in Marfa, TX (Irwin’s part is at about 14 minutes in)

 Class 22
November 20
Recommended resource. Skim to see what is here. Craig Adcock 1990 book on Turrell
New Turrell website Useful overview as of 2018.
Required (next 4 items plus video): Adcock on ideas for Roden Crater 1989
Light and Space 1994
Times article on Roden Crater 2007
NY Times article 2013
 Watch 1995 French video about Turrell on Kaltura site on Moodle
 Class 23
November 27
Continue to study the set listed for last time

Mainly, we’ll proceed with film, using the resources below.

Assignment 4 — Due December 4

 Assignment 4 due a week from today, Dec. 4
 Class 24
November 29
 Rich sample in recent YouTube

High School Video
Competing suburban Seattle HS
Forward version  The “competing” video above was made to be shown backward.  This link labeled “Forward version” shows how that video was made.

Bordwell, Gombrich, and. . . What?

Bordwell chapter
Gibson chapter on film
Cutting Chapter

Dolly sample
Zoom sample

Making the Copacobana shot in Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese
Reverse tracking or “vertigo” shot

 Class 25
December 4
Review Gibson chapter (above)
Review Cutting chapter (above)
Editing — with montage
Kuleshov effect and montage
Christopher Nolan films
Koyaanisqatsi trailer Mentioned in Cutting chapter
Perceptual motion phenomenon based on Johansson and Runeson.  From Trinity senior thesis.  Now related to “motion capture.” Example of “event perception” mentioned in Gibson chapter.

The SteadiCam and how to use it

Finally: Look for “How Hollywood Does it” video on Kanopy, accessible through Trinity Library.

 Class 26
December 6
Sol LeWitt at Trinity
Sol LeWitt: For video, check the Trinity Library listings for the videos 1. “Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings” which is about Mass MOCA, and 2. “Sol LeWitt: 4 Decades.  These are in Kanopy for streaming.
Carl Andre at Dia: Beacon
Fred Sandback at Dia Beacon
The Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image
 New resource for you to know about:  Cutting, J. E. & Armstrong, K. L. (2018). Cryptic Emotions and the Emergence of a Metatheory of Mind in Popular Filmmaking.  Cognitive Science, 42, 1317-1344.

DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12586

Final Paper Due Monday December 17